10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Have you figured this out already?  Still arm wrestling with the usual suspects over whether the return on investment is worth the cost?

Here are 10 killer benefits of a thriving small group ministry:

  1. Life-change happens best in small groups. You might have a killer weekend worship service with powerful teaching and inspiring worship, but you still need to know that “the optimal environment for life-change is a small group” because life-change happens best in circles, not rows.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture that’s All About Circles.
  2. Small groups make churches personal.  Whether your church averages 150 or 1500, if I can slip into a back row and then leave without sharing life with a person…your church is too large to not incorporate a small group experience.  Yes, it’s still true that a certain kind of person or a particular stage in life makes a toe-in-the-water easier when you can be anonymous.  But the research is in.  The desire to find a few good friends is on the rise and loneliness is increasing.  See also, Don’t Miss These Two Huge Barna Findings for Small Group Ministries.
  3. Small groups provide a nearly unlimited leadership development pipeline.  What if I told you that your congregation and the crowd that joins you on special days like Easter or Christmas Eve is full of potential leaders?  In my experience, the same churches that tell me they’ve been praying for God to send workers for the harvest really just haven’t learned how to identify the  leaders God has already sent!  See also, 5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry and My Top 3 Ninja Ideas for Recruiting Small Group Leaders.
  4. Off-campus small groups provide nearly unlimited space at optimum times.  Can’t afford to build?  Need to reach a much larger community than you could ever fit on campus at one time.  Homes, apartments, and coffee shops offer the space you need to have more adults in small groups than you have in your weekend services.  See also, The Four Biggest Obstacles Standing in the Way of Starting New Groups*
  5. “Come over to my house” is a much easier invitation than “come with me to church.”   Off-campus small groups become increasingly more important as the transition to a post-Christian culture accelerates.  While there certainly was a time when an invitation to “come with me to church” was welcomed and even expected…those days are gone.  What remains?  “Come over.”  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry and The X-Factor Is Near the Edge.
  6. Small groups provide the best opportunity for one-anothering.  If you want to be known for the way you love one another…you need to emphasize being part of a small group.  The idea that I can receive or give the kind of personal care commanded in the one-anothers while isolating myself from others isn’t anchored in reality.  See also, The Primary Activity of the Early Church.
  7. Small groups can provide a sense of family for many whose biological family lives far away.  Unlike generations past, it is increasingly more common for adults to find themselves living far away from their biological family.  Add the growing number of broken homes and dysfunctional families and you have a snapshot of the 21st century.  A small group, the right kind of small group experience can play a role in providing a sense of family.  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  8. I can ask questions in a small group.  Dialogue is one of the key ingredients of life-change.  If every spiritual experience I have is about listening, if it’s all about one-way communication…I’m going to miss one of the most important developmental aspects of a growing faith.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  9. Small groups make it possible for more people to be cared for between Sundays.  Genuine care is demonstrated when my needs are known without a call to the church office.  A network of small groups provides the delivery system for that kind of care.  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?
  10. Small groups provide an ever expanding network for communication and impact.  This is a huge benefit!  There is a vast difference in the response to an announcement from the platform and a personal invitation.  When this network for communication and impact is activated, reach becomes exponential.

What do you think?  Have one to add?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Posts of November, 2013

Here are my top 10 posts of November, 2013.  I had folks stop in from 80 countries around the world.  That’s amazing to me.  Thanks for stopping by!

Pretty cool, too, 836 of my almost 1300 posts was viewed at least once.  Thanks for reading!

Did you miss a day?  Here are my top posts for the month:

  1. Top 5 January/February Church-Wide Campaigns for 2014 (October, 2013)
  2. Tall Tales and Downright Whoppers that Keep Churches from Launching New Groups (November, 2013)
  3. How to Launch Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  4. Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar? (April, 2012)
  5. Skill Training: Equip Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow (January, 2010)
  6. 5 things I Used to Believe about Small Group Ministry (November, 2013)
  7. 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders (October, 2013)
  8. Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles (November, 2012)
  9. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader (October, 2013)
  10. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure (February, 2008)

Learn to Empathize with Your End User

What does it take to design something that actually matters to your customer?  To your end user?  It may not be what you think.  It turns out that what makes a great designer is empathy.

“Be empathetic,” Kelley tells Charlie Rose in a January, 2013 episode of 60 Minutes. “Try to understand what people really value.”

This is so important to all of us.  If we want to reach beyond the usual suspects, to reach into the crowd and even the community…we must learn to truly empathize with the people we’re trying to reach.

Here is the 60 Minutes interview with David Kelley, founder of IDEO.  It is a great 12 minutes.  Enjoy it, but listen for the mentions of the importance of empathy.

Can’t see the video?  You can watch it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

4 Steps to Extending Your Reach into the Crowd and Community

Ever said anything that remotely sounds like this:

  • Our student ministry isn’t reaching new teens.
  • We’re just not reaching young adults anymore.
  • We’re not reaching young couples.
  • We’re seeing plenty of first time visitors, but they’re not coming back.
  • Our congregation doesn’t reflect the community.  We’re older.  We lack diversity.  We drive the wrong cars and listen to the wrong music.

What if there was a solution, but it required leaving behind the safety of your office?  What if there was an answer, but it meant getting out of your office and spending time with the people you’re trying to reach?

There is a solution

If we were product developers or marketers, we would understand the need to develop empathy for our customers’ needs.  We wouldn’t spend a lot of time criticizing our customers (or non-customers) for not being wise enough to choose our product.  We wouldn’t spend any time or energy trying to figure out why they won’t buy what we think they ought to buy or do what they should do.

If we were product developers or marketers, we wouldn’t do any of those things, would we?  No…it would be a waste of time.

Four steps that extend reach into the crowd and community

What would we do?  We’d do these four things:

  1. We’d get out of our offices and venture into the messy unknown of the lives of the people we hope to reach.  Instead of theorizing, we’d actually spend time with them.  Instead of postulating or pontificating about what they want, we’d spend time with them learning what they need.
  2. We’d suspend our fear of judgement and begin rethinking our strategies.  Instead of worrying what the usual suspects will think, we’d courageously follow the course that leads to the truth.  We’d honestly diagnose the effectiveness of what we’re currently doing.  We’d honor the wins of the past while admitting the failures of the present.
  3.  We’d accept losing control by bringing outsiders into our project.  We’d be open to the inclusion of new team members who might offer fresh perspectives on our mission.  We’d invite the participation and insights of other experts on aspects of the community.
  4. We’d quickly take first steps by implementing unproven but promising prototypes.  Instead of waiting for a fully perfected new model, we’d eagerly search for next steps that lead in the right direction.

I’ve been reading and reflecting on a set of ideas from Tom and David Kelley’s Creative Confidence.  In addition, there are excellent examples in two HBR articles by the Kelleys: Fighting the Fears that Block Creativity and Reclaim Your Creative Confidence.

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Set Aside What You Think Is True to Learn What Is Actually True

I quoted a line from Gary Hamel in a recent post.  A great line, very thought-provoking, and one that ought to be downright terrifying for many church leaders.  Hamel wrote:

“Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change. And that’s the problem that besets many churches today (Gary Hamel, Organized Religion’s ‘Management Problem’).”

My post drew the following email from a reader:

I read your recent blog and you have touched on a trend that has become more prevalent in our church.  People either go to worship or to small group but not both.  We are seeing this trend on Sunday mornings (especially among younger families).  Getting them to commit to both is becoming more problematic.  Are you suggesting that if we lift up the standard of expecting attendance at both a group time and a worship service that we run the risk becoming irrelevant?

I responded and my response drew the following question:

I guess what struck me about your comment was where do you draw the line in terms of the expectations you have for people that are members of your church.  Do you give into in to it and just say that is the direction of the culture?  Or do you hold the expectation up and ask that they alter their lives?

Upon further review

I really think my reader is asking the wrong questions.  Instead of asking whether we should just give into cultural shifts or hold onto higher expectations, I think we ought to be wondering why younger families are choosing between worship and small group?  We ought to be asking ourselves, “What latent, unexpressed need is going unmet?”  We might need to wonder whether there is something missing in the design of the worship experience.

More to chew on: 

In a section of Creative Confidence (on my Christmas 2013 Reading List) on the subject of learning to empathize with the end user, authors David and Tom Kelley note that “empathy means challenging your preconceived ideas and setting aside your sense of what you think is true to learn what actually is true.”  They go on to cite a great Mark Twain line that “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.”

Takeaway

Instead of allowing our attention to become locked on what our members and attendees should be doing or what we believe they need, we’d best develop genuine empathy and set out to design ministry that meets their latent, often unexpressed needs.

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Reading List for Christmas, 2013

Every year I create a list of books I think you should read.  Sometimes the books I include are very purely about small group ministry, discipleship or spiritual formation.  Other times, the books I include may seem pretty far afield (innovation, design, leadership, or strategy).  You’ll just have to trust me.  I wouldn’t include a book I didn’t think would be added to your toolbox and contribute in a trajectory-altering way.

That said…here is this my 2013 Christmas Reading List:

innovations dirty little secretInnovation’s Dirty Little Secret by Larry Osborne

Very readable, this is my kind of book.  Packed with insights from the lead pastor of one of the most innovative churches in America, your copy will no doubt be as marked up, highlighted, and full of notes as mine.  If I could’ve figured out how to easily tweet more of the great lines, I would’ve been marked a spammer for sure!

Extremely practical, I found myself firing off emails to team members on my own staff with discussions we need to have and issues we need to tackle.  I loved the way just about every chapter could be the source for a great staff discussion.  With the right plan, any team could come away with plenty of actionable takeaways.

I don’t think I can write a strong enough recommendation for Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret.  What I can do is tell you that if you’re not reading this book, and actually if your team isn’t reading this book, you only have yourself to blame!  This is a great handbook for innovation and change.  I highly, highly recommend it!

You can read my review right here.

STIR

STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships by Mindy Caliguire

STIR takes what I’d call a very fresh approach to spiritual formation and comes at this topic in a way that should catch the attention of small group ministry champions.  I cracked open the book because I’ve found Mindy’s earlier contributions very helpful.  I caught myself about 25 pages in thinking, “Wait…what? and started over from the introduction!  Too good.  Packed with very helpful ideas!

Drawing from the findings of Willow Creek’s Reveal study, STIR employs a framework based on the three “believer” stages in the research; the “primary shifts that mark the transition from one stage to another.”  Taking a cue from Reveal, STIR refers to these three stages as learning together, journeying together, and following together.

You can read my review right here.

innovating discipleshipInnovating Discipleship by Will Mancini

A slim book, Innovating Discipleship is just 85 pages (when you include the appendix).  At the same time, any one of several killer concepts is worth way more than the price of this book.  If you read with an eye for game-changing insight…you’ll have no trouble uncovering a set of new questions and new insights that will spur new conversations for a long time.

In the opening pages of the book, Mancini unveils an intriguing formula: 1 + 2 + 4 + 16.  Here’s what it means: one whiteboard drawing defined by two vision decisions reals fourpaths to the future that provide sixteen super questions for limitless ministry innovation.  He has a passion for tool-making.  Innovating Discipleship is a great tool!

You can read my review right here.

influencerInfluencer by Joseph Grenny

I don’t know if you caught Joseph Grenny’s session at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit…but his book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change ought to move straight to the top of your reading list.

Like me, you probably have a non-stop desire to figure out even better ways to influence people to get connected, to step into leadership, to become a disciple and to disciple others.  What if the learnings of this team of social scientists could help me do that?

Influencer consists of two parts.  The first part of the book focuses on the three keys that all successful influencers adhere to and that we can use for our benefit.  The second part of the book focuses on the six sources of influence.  Packed with real life examples and full of very practical application, Influencer is both an easy read and a book that is going to end up having a huge impact on the design of our strategies.

You can read my review right here.

creative confidenceCreative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley

Working my way through a great new book by Tom and David Kelley.  Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All is the latest from Tom Kelley (partner at IDEO and author of The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation) and David Kelley (founder of IDEO)…and it is packed with a ton of great takeaways!

Like Tom Kelley’s previous work, Creative Confidence is really a string of very compelling stories that illustrate his points and enough killer ideas to leave my copy pretty marked up, highlighted and starred.  There is some crossover between Ten Faces and Creative Confidence, but I think that’s to be expected in a book that references some of the innovative techniques and practices found in the earlier book.  Rather than finding it repetitive, I found it reinforcing and eye-opening.

You can pick up your copy right here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Dilbert on Hard Realities

Sometimes you need a laugh. And sometimes the truth hurts…really hurts.
your boss was saying the same thing

Join Me for a FREE Conference Call: 5 Secrets to a Big Start in 2014

As you probably know, the beginning of the year is the second best opportunity all year to launch more small groups and connect more people.  It’s such a good opportunity…but it’s a shame to see it wasted so often!

Want to learn the 5 Secrets to a Big (GroupLife) Start in 2014?

You’re invited!  Join me for a free 60 minute conference call on Tuesday, December 10th at 11:00 a.m. PST.

I’ll be sharing the 5 Secrets to a Big Start in 2014.

Hope you’ll come along!  Space is limited.  You can RSVP by clicking right here

Don’t Miss Starting Small: A New Book from Ben Reed

starting smallHad a chance to preview Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, a new book from my friend Ben Reed.  Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area.

I call Ben a whippersnapper because for someone his age to know what he knows and have the insights he has is pretty remarkable.  I wanted you to hear a little bit about why he wrote Starting Small and why you ought to buy it.

What motivated you to write Starting Small?

I realized that the problems we were facing in the ministry I led were the same ones that I was having conversations about with so many other groups folks from around the country who were wanting to start a groups ministry, or take their current one to the next level. The book was an overflow of the conversations I’ve been having for the past 6 years.

Who did you write it for?  Who do you see really benefitting from the book?

The primary audience for my book is the person who wants to help his/her small group grow, and help people take steps of faith. I think small group leaders, small group pastors, lead pastors, education directors, and small group coaches would benefit from it.

But it would also be a resource that a potential leader/apprentice could read and (hopefully) find helpful.

As an aging whippersnapper, can you give us a preview of a couple key lessons you’ve learned that will really benefit the readers of Starting Small?

One thing that I believe a lot of small group guys miss is what I call “partying monthly.” We have rhythms in so many other areas of life. At work. At home. With our hobbies. With our free time. Rhythms are the result of well-worn disciplines.

So I like to help groups start off developing a rhythm that promotes growth.

We gather weekly and party monthly.

Because, well, for one, Jesus followers tend to be pretty boring people. Which is not reflective of the beautiful God we serve! I love what the Psalmist says:

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then they said among the nations,

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us;

we are glad. – Psalm 126:2-3

When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. And the flip-side must also be true. If our mouths aren’t filled with laughter, people become convinced that the God we serve isn’t good. That he doesn’t take delight in loving is people. That the God we proclaim as King is ultimately boring, and eternity will be a dull, lifeless “existence.” That’s not the story I want to tell.

So “partying monthly” is a vital rhythm of small group life.

I’d also say that one thing I’ve found most helpful is strategic “start” times, instead of a constant drip of starting new groups. We launch groups around strategic times through the year, and that’s been a huge win for us.

Thanks Ben!  I’m excited for you and for all the small group leaders that are helped by your wisdom and insight!

Want to add a copy to your personal library?  You can purchase a copy right here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

10 Practices I Need to Learn from Jesus the Small Group Leader

There are a number of things we can know about Jesus the small group leader just by reading the New Testament, particularly the gospels.  And there are at least 10 practices that I need to learn:

  1. Jesus invited men from the crowd who weren’t already connected.  Isn’t this counterintuitive?  How often are we taught to put our time into high capacity leaders from the core?  Curiously, that’s not what Jesus did.  Why do you think that was?  I believe the 12 may have been more connected to the crowd and community than the core.  See also, The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core and Important Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge.
  2. Jesus’ group began as a free market small group (net fishing was the affinity!).  Not a bad way to begin.  At least initially, they seemed to invite each other.  See also, An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System.
  3. Jesus didn’t have an apprentice or co-leader.  Technically, he was leading a turbo group.  See also, Small Group Leaders: Finding, Recruiting and Developing.
  4. Jesus developed his members with this 5 step process: (1) I do, you watch. (2) I do, you help. (3) You do, I help, we talk. (4) You do, I watch, we talk. (5) You do, someone else watches.  See also, Exponential: How to Accomplish the Jesus Mission.
  5. Their curriculum was frequently rehashing what Jesus had just taught on the mountain or by the lake (making Jesus’ group the first sermon-based small group!).  See also, An Analysis of the Sermon Based Small Group System.
  6. Their primary meeting environment was a third place.  Their meetings were as much or more about what happened in between and on the way.
  7. Once he formed the group, Jesus spent more time with the members of his group than anyone else (including his family).  I know this is a challenging and countercultural observation.  And yet…is it near the center of his impact strategy?
  8. Jesus was intentional with his group members, challenging and encouraging them.   He had a preferred future, an end-in-mind for them.  He loved each of them.  He called out their failings and cast vision for what they would become (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 19:28, Matthew 16:23, Matthew 20:20-28).  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Group.
  9. Jesus set aside his rights to take care of his members (Philippians 2:3-8).  How often do I take care of me first?  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
  10. Jesus set aside time with God to recharge and recalibrate.  He operated with clear priorities and understood his need for the power that can only come from time with God (Mark 1:35).  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

I don’t know about you…but looking at this list I am clearly not there.  I want to be.  But I’m not.  Thankfully, I have learned from Paul that I can be thankful I am no longer what I used to be and moving forward to what I will be one day (Philippians 3:12-14).

What do you think?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.